What the Departure of Phil Jurkovec Means for Notre Dame

A Notre Dame offseason that’s already been full of intrigue gained a little more on Wednesday morning when backup QB  Phil Jurkovec’s name showed up in the transfer portal a little over a week since Ian Book announced he would return in 2020.

Jurkovec, who hails from Pine Richland Highschool outside of Pittsburgh, was of the highest recruited quarterback prospects in the Brian Kelly era and was the staple of the 2018 recruiting class. Rivals and 247 had Jurkovec listed in the top 100 for 2018.

Why is Phil Leaving Notre Dame

It would be easy to point to playing time as the reason for Jurkovec’s sudden departure. Jurkovec has played very little over his first 2 seasons and will end his Notre Dame career with just 17 pass attempts.

Ian’s Book’s return all but guarantees another season of Jurkovec riding the pine as it can be assumed that Ian Book isn’t returning to Notre Dame to battle for his job.

The interesting part of Jurkovec’s departure is that his best shot to see the field in 2020 is actually in South Bend.

Jurkovec already used a redshirt for a non-medical reason, and NCAA rules require that he sit out an entire season before regaining eligibility, therefore not starting for any team till 2021 when he would likely only be competing with Drew Pyne and a True Freshman Tyler Buchner.

But that’s where the real reasons for Jurkovec’s sudden departure could lie.

It’s no secret that Jurkovec’s career in Blue and Gold hadn’t been quite living up to expectations. In fact, after a dismal Spring game performance, many wondered if he would ever be the starter.

Brian Kelly said throughout the 2019 season that Phil was making good strides in his development, but a lack of playing time in ay kind of meaningful situation seems to hallow the coach’s words.

A strained relationship with the Irish coaching staff, and in particular Tommy Rees seems to be the real reason Jurkovec is leaving.

It’s been reported that the Irish Coaching staff began to question Jurkovec’s skillset in relation to their offensive system, at one point believing they could develop the talented prospect. It seems that the staff came to see that Jurkovec wasn’t their quarterback of the future.

In fact, many believe that the Irish staff has every intention of having ‘21 Commit Tyler Buchner start right away. As big as a recruit as Phil was, Buchner will be Kelly’s biggest grab at the position during his time at ND.

So with this information, it’s easy to see why Jurkovec would see 2020 as a wasted season. His only real shot to play next year is an Ian Book injury.

It’s uncertain where he will end up, but one would not be surprised if he ends up at Pittsburgh. We, of course, wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Affect On Notre Dame’s staff perception

This is the second story in a week that’s left some Irish fans questioning Brian Kelly and his staff’s complacency.

There was the story last week that insinuated that two highly coveted recruits ( Lathan Ransom and Jalen McMillan) chose other schools essentially because Brian Kelly was not active in their recruitment.

Brian Kelly recently said that he believes that Notre Dame can be a top 5 recruiting program. I couldn’t agree more. Where I think we differ is the HC’s involvement in recruiting.

Brian Kelly has certainly evolved from the red-faced coach ready to switch QBs after one incompletion, but he has a final step to take.

He has to better understand 18-year-olds inn 2019. High school prospects have bigger egos than ever, and the best coaches understand that sometimes you have to stroke that ego.

This is just another example of a simple thing that Brian Kelly needs to be better at.

Notre Dame Going Forward

The one thing that is clear is that Notre Dame either didn’t have any confidence in Jurkovec or they have more confidence in Brendan Clark, Drew Pyne, and Tyler Bucher.  Notre Dame’s staff certainly has more qualifications to judge quarterback play than a subway alum, but it seems there isn’t a logical reason to have chased Phil Jurkovec out of the program.

Optimism is certainly to be had about the incoming signal-callers, but the Irish certainly could have used Jurkovec in 2020, and he still might’ve been the best option in 2021.

Let’s hope that these unfortunate occurrences can be a learning opportunity for a Coach who has previously shown a willingness to change.

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  1. I think there is a bit of overreaction to all of this. This is 2020 and the transfer portal is a new phenomenon that we all need to get used to as business as usual. Kids today, especially talented ones are not going to sit around for three years waiting for their chance. There is no evidence to support the idea that Phil was “the guy” moving forward despite his rave reviews coming out of high school. There was not enough room in that QB room for four scholarship QBS which is what would be there by 2021. One of them was bound to move on so it’s the guy who has already burned some significant eligibility. Fresh start for him and fresh start for ND with three talented, scholarship kids, in that room within a year or so. It’s not necessarily Kelly’s fault if PJ didn’t work out, although it is possible that it is. We don’t know and shouldn’t assume either way. Not every “can’t miss kid” is really that. In fact very few are. Let’s see it for what it is and move on.

    1. Taken on its own I’d agree. Kids transferring is a fact of life in CFB today.

      For me at least, it’s I’m not sold that Book is the QB that gives us the best chance to win a NC. We played a bunch of weak teams to close out the season that would make a lot of QB’s look good. Until I see Book improve against strong teams I’m not buying the hype.

      I think we all want ND to win a NC. I just don’t think Book does that. Would Jurkovec? I don’t know. But I don’t want to just settle. Some pundits saying we should be happy with 10-2 and Camping World Bowls. And saying how much ND has improved. That’s great. But are we content with where we are at. Staying with Book seems to be saying we are. That 10-2, 9-3 and Camping World level bowls are all we need.


    Why is Phil Leaving Notre Dame

    Ian’s Book’s return all but guarantees another season of Jurkovec riding the pine as it can be assumed that Ian Book isn’t returning to Notre Dame to battle for his job.

  3. I wish Phil the best wherever he ends up. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what he might have been capable of at ND as he never was given much opportunity by Almighty One. What’s done is done. Book will be the “guy” and we pretty much know what we will see. Unless god forbid he suffers some injury, I can only hope maybe he makes some continued improvement as a QB this fall.

  4. This could be one of the more interesting Blue/Gold games. There sure will be enough O-linemen and D-linemen to run two strong units against each other on both sides of the ball.
    I think I’ll go. BTW: I just went to the Women’s basketball game Clemson on Dec. 29th with a bunch of Southside cousins, my wife and my mother. We need an outside shooter or two to walk-on!

    BGC ’77 ’82

  5. As the Subway Alum Blaise is referencing in article, I’m happy to learn that the staff has been listening to me this entire time.

    My fear has been that we’d learn that Clarke transferred not Jurkovec. If Kelly was an equal opportunity employer, Clarke would easily beat out the inconsistent, indecisive and ineffectual Book. Mr ‘happy feet’ as I like to call him. Long passes are short, short passes are rarely leading the receiver and sideline passes are usually out of bounds. But, since Kelly sold Book on returning, he’s gonna feel an obligation to play him…over Clarke. Too bad. But then, not too bad for all readers of these pages who believe winning 10 games in the season is a ‘great’ season. That’s what Book will give Kelly, another double-digit win season…BUT not a National Championship. Fear this my co-readers, other unimpressive10 win season means another extension for Kelly.

    I truly believe that Clarke can do as well, but that he would also do one (big game) better.

    1. I have been lucky enough to see Clark in person, he is the real deal and will be the starting quarterback that will lead ND to the playoffs. He refuses to lose and is an accurate passer who can run when he has to. He is truly mentally tuff and can handle the pressure of being the QB at Notre Dame.

  6. For those of you commenting on Jurkovec’s performance in the spring game and that is the key indicator of how bad he was is ridiculous. I followed Jurkovec closely since he’s been at ND. The coaches decided to try and screw with his throwing motion after last fall and into the spring (which included the game). Yeah he has an awkward throwing motion similar to Phillip Rivers if I had to make a comparison although not as much sidearm. However, after the spring game, Jurkovec said he went back to throwing the football the way he did in high school where he was dropping dimes all over the place. It was so obvious to see this if you watch closely to how he was throwing in the spring game vs throwing in games this fall. He was like 12 of 15 with several completions downfield, couple TDs, etc. He looked really good throwing the ball in the fall and I know I keep mentioning it but the throw against Navy is an NFL throw Book cannot make in that same scenario.

    The whole point is why would the coaches screw with the way a kid throws the football when he was highly successful doing it his way in high school and the reason he was so highly rated as a QB recruit? Did coaches change Tebow’s throwing motion in college? No, because he was able to get the ball where it was supposed to be on time. But everyone thought he had a “bad” throwing motion and hmmm, didn’t he win a Heisman and win a NC as a starting QB? I think it’s pretty obvious they didn’t want to develop Jurkovec. I think this staff is stubborn, Kelly especially from a multitude of different reasons that have all been proven. It’s a “do what I say or hit the highway” mentality. As other posters have pointed out, Book wasn’t even supposed to play for ND. But Brian Kelly now loves him and his dink and dunk record setting completion percentage (which by the way dropped 8% this year) because that is what this offense has come to expect. As everyone with a brain has been stating, that will be good enough to beat bad teams and get you 10 wins each season but it’s not enough to compete with the elite programs.

    1. I’m always reluctant to judge a player just by the Blue-Gold game (now I’m not saying that’s the only metric some use in their criticism—but if it is there’s so much more than that one glorified scrimmage game).

      I think at the beginning of the year the coaches were more willing to give Jurkovec more to do. He was making rookie mistakes, sure, but it seemed they were trying to work with him. But then ever since the VT game they put the handcuffs on. First he didn’t see the field as much when the game was in hand—or it was much later in the game. Secondly, toward the end of the season when he was put out in the field he was just doing token hand offs to RB’s.

      It seemed to me they had already moved on from Jurkovec at that point. Jurkovec probably just saw the writing on the wall and decided he may never play at ND and if he wanted to see the field it would have to be elsewhere.

    2. Kelly was a Dick for not giving PJ significant reps during the season when the situation was right. I’m hearing PJ and TR were not on the same page and with TR most likely staying on as the new OC that probably convinced PJ he was never going to be the guy at ND. I hope wherever he goes he gets a chance and tears it up. Unfortunately QBs under Kelly that have left the program and gone elsewhere have not had great success.

  7. Silver lining is the coaches really like Brendon Clark. Check out Hansen’s article on him. He’s 6’2, so a little bigger athlete (than Book) and has great leadership skills. So maybe he’s the answer.
    I really feel bad that PJ did not get enough opportunity. Some of it self inflicted, but my feeling has always been that he was a gamer, not a practice player. To succeed in Kelly’s system, you have to show it in practice. Phil was never going to be that kind of player.
    We’ll see if he goes elsewhere and lights it up. The physical talent is evident but we just don’t know how he was as a student of the game. Likely not dialed in on that front.

      1. Thanks Southside. Appreciate the kind words.

        Let’s wish Phil success, and that he finds a school and program that brings out the best in him.

  8. What Jurkovecs departure means to me is ND has lost a viable #1 backup to Book next season. That loss of depth in a skilled position is not insignificant.

    1. And he’s viable based on what? I like to think the staff knows what they have and what they have coming in and will find a viable backup among those who remain. Certainly as viable as a kid who hardly saw the field in two seasons.

  9. Anyone who watched Jurkovec’s performance in the Blue/Gold game should not be wondering why the coaches lack confidence in him, why incoming QB are likely to have a competitive edge over him and why Jurkovec himself correctly saw the handwriting on the wall. We have no evidence to date that Kelly and his staff can develop a championship QB, but all the talk about Book’s “ceiling,” etc. would end if Book had better than the 17th best offensive line in the country that could create holes for running back to take the pressure off Book. A QB who has the best completion average in the history of the school and is a better than average runner is NOT the problem.

  10. I agree with both posters. Who would have ever thought the Irish would have trouble developing an elite QB? When Book wins a big game, call me.

  11. Enjoy 10-2 and another Camping World/Music City type bowl. ND seems to be willing to settle for the path of least resistance. PJ was the best QB on the roster next year but doesn’t want to waste another year of development on a staff that has no intention of actually developing him.

    I’m glad ND is back to win 10+ games every year. Sure beats the alternative. But impossible to get over the hump when we settle for mediocre QB play. Book will be just good enough to beat everyone except the top teams. Add in a terrible decision, naming Rees OC, and you have the recipe for another season where ND is borderline Top 10 but doesn’t break into that upper echelon.

    1. Yeah, agree. I know I rag on Book and all. He’s not terrible. He can beat probably your average defenses. The problem is he’s not the elite style QB you need to win the biggest games. Let’s face it, you want to win NC’s, or even just playoff games, you need a top QB. Now you need other things too. But if you don’t have a top QB you’re just not going to win those games. You won’t win on the QB alone, but you can sure lose because of the QB.

      Now, I’d love to be proved wrong and find out Book is one of those QBs. But I’m just not sold. BK has shown a lack of ability to develop top QB’s when he has them coming in highly rated. I can’t imagine he can take an average QB and make him elite.

      1. Book as elite- not yet at least; elite players at RB and WR and TE? Elite enough to make plays.
        And a surplus of choices- both incoming and already there.
        I’ll say this again- and probably again and again.
        Having an elite DL and OL is necessary if a team wants to join the elite.
        The DL is closer, and depth-rich. Whoever coaches the OL, and their development, will determine how close to elite the 2020 season’s team will be.
        LSU QB Burrow is elite; and his OL was voted the best OL. The two complement each other, especially when you expect to execute a third and one or score a TD from first and goal and you don’t way too often.
        Is it OL talent? Not according to those who rate them when they arrive at ND. Developing linemen from HS to college is key to every program. They don’t arrive a finished product just because they’re huge.
        It’s still about controlling the LOS.

      1. …a season that included a nail-biter victory against the current, dumpster fire edition of USC — a team that ended up having a coach-firing season, but just didn’t pull the plug to the amazement of EVERYONE —- and a throat-stomped humiliation at the hands of hated Michigan.

        Yup…a real mirror image of those other programs.

  12. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here but I really hope BK did not make a mistake in chasing away Jurkovec in favor of Book. Now some of these background issues are interesting. And it’s true Jurkovec is still going to be sitting out next year. But I can’t help but feel like he was probably wondering if he would ever actually play at ND. I don’t think he came to South Bend to be the perennial back-up and maybe he felt that was the best he would achieve there.

    But I’m just not sold on Book yet. Some people think he’s turned a corner. But until I see him stare down a solid defense and beat them I’m just not ready to say he’s the one to bring it all home. After Michigan I can’t say we faced any really good teams that challenged him a lot. He’s going to have a few less play makers to help him out next year.

    And I can’t help but feel like this time next year we’re all going to be wondering what could have been after another Camping World type bowl.

    And I’m sorry if I’ve gotten sick of the old ‘maybe next year’ line. It’s been ‘maybe next year’ since 2005 basically after Weis’ first year. “well, maybe next year we’ll be elite again or win a NC or at least a major NY Day 6 bowl”. Next year…next year….next year….next year. When does that become THIS YEAR? Now we’re talking about 2021 like we’ve already given up on 2020.

    But then, I become more convinced as each year passes that the true PTBs don’t really care anymore about NC’s or being elite. But that’s a rant for another day.

    1. I think PJ skated by in HS on his talent alone and when he hit the field the talent level rose a few notches. He had already said he didn’t enroll early because he wanted to play basketball his senior year and I can’t blame him for that but he also said in the spring he came into college and sorta went through the motions in practice instead of becoming a student of the game. I think he should have played the 4th quarter of every game after the beat down in Michigan to prepare him for this season and beyond. Kelly may have been catering to Book to persuade him to return this season but we will never really know the whole story. Either way he’s gone and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it now.
      I agree on not being sold on Book next year. Does he open up a little more and take chances knowing there isn’t a QB behind him that can replace him on the field or does he play it safer knowing there isn’t a QB behind him should something happen? We already know his physical limitations and it will take a few games to get the receivers and him on the same page in games.
      I’m sick of maybe next year myself and I believe 2020 will be a real good season. Undefeated up to the Clemson game, hope it’s 20 degrees and snowing with a nail biter win, run the rest of the table and make the playoffs. Wishful thinking maybe but you always gotta hope for the best.
      If they are thinking that Bucher is coming in and starting from day 1 how does that factor into Pyne wanting to stick around? But thats another topic to dive into in 2 years.

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